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Sports News | Winter Olympics: Speed ​​skiers burn snow and skin

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Granted, the braking and cornering will have capped the car’s highest possible speed, but Verstappen – and F1 – epitomizes the pinnacle of motorsport speed in a multi-billion dollar industry.

And yet, armed with nothing but two skis, skeleton cloths and a helmet worthy of a Daft Punk comeback tour, there are humans hurtling down mountainsides faster than a car. F1.

In 2016, Italian Ivan Origone hurtled downhill from La Forêt Blanche resort in France, averaging 254.958 km/h (158.42 mph) over his last 100 meters to set a new world record.

For perspective, the World Air Sports Federation states that the terminal velocity of the human body in freefall in a stable position, head down, is between 240 and 290 km/h (149.13 and 180.2 mph) – speed skiers actually dive into the sky.

Unsurprisingly, such descriptions dictate that, although skiing is generally very popular, speed skiing is a niche vocation – especially for British skiers, given the relative lack of snow-capped peaks.

However, Jan Farrell, the most successful British speed skier of the century, is an exception to the rule.

Winner of the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup in the Speed ​​2 category in 2014, Farrell had the advantage over his British colleagues in speed skiing having lived in Spain for 32 years.

Spain may not scream “skier’s paradise” to many, but with 35% of the country being mountainous and with 32 ski resorts, a six-year-old Farrell was hooked from his first lesson in Gavarnie, France. .

“As a kid, that was my kind of natural way to ski — just point in a straight line and bomb it down the hill, like with a lot of kids I think,” Farrell told CNN. Sport.
Sports News | Winter Olympics: Speed ​​skiers burn snow and skin

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The bigger they are, the faster they fall

A nine-year international career has taken Farrell around the world, following the biannual FIS World Cup circuit around Andorra, Canada, France, Finland and Sweden, as well as visiting Munich. every month to practice.

When he wasn’t flying — literally and figuratively — Farrell was in the gym, following a grueling Olympic fitness plan 300 days a year.

Weightlifting, squats and deadlifts formed the backbone of a program designed to build dense muscle. While jockeys on horseback aim to stay as light as possible, athletes on speed skis maximize strength and heaviness, but not without limits.

Sports News | Winter Olympics: Speed ​​skiers burn snow and skin

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“Aerodynamics is key, so you can’t just be big – you have to be compact and flexible,” Farrell said. “You need to be in a tight tucked position, and if you have a big stomach, that’s not ideal.

“So weighing a lot, but also having strong muscles because you have to adapt to the terrain and ski the slope, and you have to be very strong and precise in a very small range of motion.

“If you went downhill you wouldn’t be very fast.”

crash and burn

Strength conditioning also serves another vitally important purpose: surviving accidents.

The dangers of motorsport need not be emphasized, but at the very least the riders are dressed to minimize damage. McLaren’s F1 driver’s suit, for example, made from a heat and flame resistant fibre, can withstand direct exposure to fire for 15 seconds, supported by flame resistant boots and gloves.

Speed ​​skiers do not benefit from such protection. With clothing designed for speed and only for speed, accidental injuries can be horrific.

Concussions, broken arms and legs – the diagnoses are endless, but friction burn is the most common injury.

Sports News | Winter Olympics: Speed ​​skiers burn snow and skin

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In 2016, while training for the World Cup in France, Farrell crashed at 216 km/h (134.2 mph) and skidded around 1,150 feet – over three and a half football pitches – leaving him with second degree burns.

Most often caused by direct exposure to fire and boiling water, partial-thickness burns can be excruciatingly painful, but incredibly, Farrell was back on the trails a day later.

fear factor

Over time, the burns healed, but the psychological scars remained.

Once unfazed and never having fallen so fast, Farrell’s confidence was shaken almost overnight – a critical issue in a discipline where there is little room for self-doubt.

“I always say my main injury was my confidence,” Farrell said. “I was pretty good at not crashing and not being scared – after that everything changed.

“Most of us who crashed take a long time to come back. It took me more than a season and I had to go through psychological training and really rethink the way I ski.”

Sports News | Winter Olympics: Speed ​​skiers burn snow and skin

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Although skiing too aggressively – “letting your skis float too much” – is a cause of accidents, skiing too cautiously can, paradoxically, be just as dangerous.

The whole point of speed skiing, says Farrell, is to separate your upper and lower body — breaking away to allow your legs to relax and let the skis do the work.

Fear and overthinking can have devastating consequences, and Farrell has spent more than a year working to untangle these issues.

“You really have to go back and rethink the whole attitude of why you’re doing this, what scares you, and what makes you go fast,” Farrell explained.

“It was a very interesting process where I got to know myself better as a human being.”

Sports News | Winter Olympics: Speed ​​skiers burn snow and skin

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The Olympics are calling you?

Demons vanquished, Farrell returned to competition for several years before announcing his “temporary” retirement from elite sport in early 2021 – citing a desire to spend time with his two young daughters as a key motivation for his decision.

Adjusting to their ski legs before many have taken their first steps, the pair are already well on their way to becoming excellent skiers, but could they follow in their father’s footsteps in speed skiing?

“I hope not,” Farrell replies.

“They can play tennis or swim or something like that. Something that involves snow but in its liquid format – like in water.”

Farrell’s fatherly commitments fill what is already a hectic schedule, complementing his role on the FIS Athletes’ Commission, his private work tutoring young elite speed skiers looking to break into the sport and his charity work helping disabled children to ski.

Sports News | Winter Olympics: Speed ​​skiers burn snow and skin

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As Farrell strives to improve the discipline’s reputation, the pinnacle of winter sports events looms with the impending 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing – a Games that will not feature speed skiing.

The sport has only made one appearance at the Winter Olympics – as a men’s and women’s demonstration event in Albertville in 1992 – and Farrell believes that while the potential is there, speed skiing must” do your homework” before an official comeback is viable.

Farrell highlights the parallels with ski jumping, an event on the Games program since its inception in 1924, which remains a popular facet of programming despite its relative rarity in the skier’s daily activities.

“He definitely has all the athletic values, the attractiveness and the spectacularity – he’s very presentable for the top-level Olympics,” says Farrell.

“I think the sport has to do its homework first – get more fans and more athletes.

“Everyone goes out and likes to ski fast, but speed skiing is a whole different thing – it’s certainly got Olympics stuff in theory – now the actual sporting base has to grow.”

To this day, it’s been work and parenthood for Farrell, as well as rediscovering a long-lost joy in skiing just for fun.

The question is: does it lack speed?

“No, I don’t think so,” replies Farrell, referring to friends in F1. “They don’t drive very fast on public roads at all – they are all very careful and relaxed drivers.”

After years in freefall, Farrell is enjoying life in the slow lane.

Winter Olympics: Speed ​​skiers burn snow and skin

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